By Sara Miller, NoCamels -
As people live longer all over the world, the issue of how countries care for their elderly population and the allocation of resources to do so has become an increasingly urgent issue.
The World Health Organization says that by 2050, there will be 2.1 billion people on the planet aged 60 years and older, while the number of over-80s is expected to triple to reach 426 million.
Israeli company Essence SmartCare believes that much of the day-to-day care required by those in their golden years can be managed digitally. It has produced an artificial intelligence platform that is both advanced enough to cope with demands of care and easy enough for the less technologically minded to use.
With healthcare experts now placing the emphasis on allowing the elderly to remain in their own homes as long as possible, the SmartCare platform acts as a virtual caregiver and companion, Essence’s Business Development Director Avi Ben David tells NoCamels.
“The elderly population is growing and growing fast, becoming a very meaningful portion of the population. In different countries it can vary between 14 to 25 percent, which is massive, and it’s not going to stop,” Ben David says.
There is already a lack of manpower in the senior care industry, and that will only worsen as need increases but wages do not, Ben David explains.
“The only way that we can bridge the gap is through technology,” he says.
“The demand now is to actually support and maintain people at home as much as possible, as well as look after their quality of life by providing some advance warnings for different situations that can happen in the home.”
When an elderly person’s home is not properly equipped to deal with their needs, they can find themselves in hospital, which places an enormous burden on health services.
British charity Age UK, for example, found that hospitals in England are treating up to 855,000 older people each year simply because their care facilities at home are inadequate.
The SmartCare platform’s artificial intelligence can keep an eye on almost every aspect of a person’s life – learning their daily routine, how much physical activity they do, what vital medication they take and even detecting changes in speech patterns as an indicator of potential health issues.
This is achieved by placing sensors throughout the home, Ben David explains. These sensors can monitor every aspect of a person’s life, including what time they wake up and even when they open the refrigerator door.
The machine learning aspect of the platform is extremely complex and takes around a month to become familiar with each person’s habits, he says. It can even differentiate between routines on weekdays and routines on weekends and holidays.
The platform also includes panic buttons that are either wearable or placed in locations where a fall is more common, such as the bathroom. The panic buttons can also be used when the wearer feels they need immediate medical attention.
And reporting a fall is one of the most crucial tasks the platform performs. This is a very common issue among elderly people, Ben David says, and a speedy response can have a huge impact on the severity of an injury and recovery time.
“Our solution is almost like having a nurse sitting in the house and registering what a person is doing,” he says. “This is important because at the end of the day, we cannot have a physical person sitting down to register what someone is doing because of the number of other people it needs to support at the same time. So the system will do it for you.”
According to Ben David, the platform itself is extremely user friendly, and designed for a generation who did not grow up with technology all around them.
The portable interface that is placed in a house uses icons to make the display and management as clear as possible for the users. It is connected to a command center that is monitored around the clock and the data gathered can be accessed by a person’s physicians and even family members.
Furthermore, Ben David says, the platform can integrate healthcare devices used in the home, such as nebulizers, heart monitors and blood pressure sleeves. The mobile interface attaches to the device, and records any key data from it.
But one of the most important services the platform provides, he says, is companionship for the very elderly, more than half of whom live alone. SmartCare, he says, is not just about protecting a person’s physical wellbeing, but also takes note of mental health issues such as depression.
“For this generation, one of the epidemics is actually loneliness,”’ according to Ben David. “Unfortunately in most cases, when you are 80 plus years old, you are by yourself.”
Anyone feeling lonely can make contact with the call center through the interface in their home and immediately have someone to talk to.
The platform is used in multiple parts of the world, including the United States, Europe, Asia and even some countries in Latin America and Africa.
The Herzliya-based company works with both public and private healthcare institutions. In Israel, for example, the system is available through Clalit, the country’s largest health maintenance organization, while in Australia, it has been installed in one of the biggest private residential villages for the elderly.
SmartCare focuses on the senior market, and is part of the Essence Group, an Israeli organization that began in 1994 by producing a home alarm system and later incorporated other Internet of Things (IoT) companies as it grew.
Ben David credits SmartCare’s expansion to a willingness to be creative at a time when the senior care market was neglected in terms of technology advancement.
“Each market was dominated by some companies, but these companies were maybe too big or too slow to innovate,” he says. “And we came very young and fast and hungry, and immediately jumped over the big players.”
SmartCare is also innovating its range of services for the elderly, with plans to introduce smoke and gas detectors, both of which Ben David says are critical for people who are in the early stages of dementia and are still living in their own houses.
“The beauty is that because the solutions are built on a digital platform and IoT technology in the house, we can create and generate lots of value to the user at home,” he says.